Even if he or she has never worked under Social Security, your spouse can begin collecting retirement benefits as early as age 62. However, if the benefit begins before his or her full retirement age, the amount will be permanently reduced by a percentage based on the number of months up to his or her full retirement age. In addition, your spouse can qualify on your record for Medicare at age 65, regardless of whether he or she has worked.

Your spouse can also receive a benefit equal to one-half of your full retirement amount if they start receiving benefits at their full retirement age. Benefits paid to your spouse will not decrease your retirement benefit. In fact, the value of the benefits he or she may receive, added to your own, may help you decide if taking your benefits sooner may be more advantageous.

If your spouse has not worked and you are both full retirement age, you can both apply for retirement benefits and then request to have your own payments suspended. That way, your spouse can receive a spouse’s benefit and you can continue to earn delayed retirement credits until age 70. However, your delayed credits cannot be passed on to your spouse.

If your spouse has reached full retirement age and is eligible for a spouse’s benefit and his or her own retirement benefit, he or she has a choice. Your spouse can choose to receive only the spouse’s benefit now and delay receiving retirement benefits until a later date. If retirement benefits are delayed, a higher benefit may be received at a later date based on the effect of delayed retirement credits.

If your spouse is eligible for retirement benefits on his or her own record Social Security will pay that amount first. But if the benefit on your record is a higher amount, he or she will get a combination of benefits that equals that higher amount (reduced for age).

If your spouse continues to work while receiving benefits, the same earnings limits apply to him or her as apply to you. If your spouse is eligible for benefits this year and is also working, you can use Social Security’s earnings test calculator, found on their website, to see how those earnings would affect his or her benefit payments. Your spouse’s earnings affect only his or her own benefits; they do not affect your benefits or those of any other beneficiaries on your record.